The state urges King County to postpone its plan to pay for election-ballot postage in the 2018 primary and general election, saying it will result in turnout inequities.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she will ask Gov. Jay Inslee for emergency funding to help the state’s counties pay for postage for voters in this year’s primary and general election if King County moves forward with a similar plan.
However, Wyman urged the King County Metropolitan Council on Monday not to fund prepaid postage for mail-in ballots this election cycle, becoming the first of the state’s 39 counties to do so.
She told the council she supports the idea but believes for reasons of equity it should happen statewide, all at the same time.
“The reason for this is that we treat every voter in this state fairly and equally,” Wyman said. “And we do that not to create confusion among voters on how they can participate.”
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The council postponed a vote on the $381,000 request for a week, at the suggestion of councilman Reagan Dunn.
Wyman told The Seattle Times it would cost the state about $1.8 million to reimburse counties statewide if King County were to implement its program for the 2018 election cycle, forcing the state to act. She said counties would be required to come up with the money themselves, and then the state would reimburse them.
The measure’s sponsor, Dave Upthegrove, said he was fine delaying the vote a week as long it was understood the request had strong council support.
“Despite the opposition we heard from our Republican secretary of state today, it is important we reduce the barriers and move forward,” he said.
Any emergency funding would likely be for a single year, since the Legislature appears poised to act next year.
State Sens. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, will introduce a bill funding prepaid election postage across the state.
Fain, who represents the 47th District, said he is supportive of any county wanting to implement prepaid postage, but he understands Wyman’s concerns. He worries about more affluent counties moving forward, making for a disparity in voter access.
Prepaid election postage has long been talked about in Olympia, but the issue has never gained traction.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened before. It is absolutely a no-brainer,” Fain said.
The push for prepaid ballots comes from King County Elections Director Julie Wise, who said she wants to increase voter turnout by reducing barriers to voting.
King County Elections tested prepaid ballots in three special elections last year in Shoreline, Maple Valley and Vashon Island.
Shoreline saw a 10 percent increase in voter turnout, from 30 percent to 40 percent. Maple Valley increased turnout from 31 percent to 37 percent and Vashon Island bumped up to 52 percent from 46 percent, the county said.
Election officials have been trying to make it easier for people to vote since the county adopted mail-ballot voting in 2009. The number of drop boxes, which don’t require postage, has been increased from 10 to 56, and ballots in King County are provided in Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. The county has partnered with Seattle Foundation to educate voters and increase turnout.
Voter turnout relies on more than access to the ballot box. Issues and candidates remain the driving factor.
In 2016, the last presidential election, 82 percent of registered King County voters cast a ballot. The 2016 primary drew 37 percent. With no presidential election last year, 43 percent voted in King County’s general election and 34 percent in the primary.
King County would be the first county in the state to offer prepaid postage for elections. The county will not be charged for ballots not mailed.
Of the $381,000 supplemental budget request, $191,000 would come from jurisdiction taking place in the election. Postage would cost 50 cents per piece.